Birmingham Ethnic Festival expands to two daysWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Birmingham Ethnic Festival, held annually on Consaul Street in East Toledo’s Birmingham neighborhood, will expand to two days for the first time.
The 38th annual festival will be open noon to 10 p.m. Aug. 18 and noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 19. Admission is free. Proceeds from food and vendor booths will benefit neighborhood organizations, including churches, the VFW and the Hungarian Club.
Organizers decided to expand the event to two days after noticing more and more people showing up Saturday night to watch the Waiters Race, a popular annual event held the night before the festival’s official Sunday opening, said Festival Chairman Imre Bertalan.
“Last year we decided, ‘OK, we’ll open a couple vendors on Saturday and see how attendance is,’” Bertalan said. “We had crowds and that told us, ‘Let’s go for a two-day festival.’ We’re excited about it.”
The festival will kick off with a parade at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 18 led by the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band in honor of the 80th anniversary of Tony Packo’s.
The Waiters Race will follow at 1 p.m. Based on a traditional event in Europe, participants run a relay involving pitchers of beer with the winner based on a combination of speed and spillage.
“There is a fierce rivalry. It is a hotly contested event each year,” Bertalan said.
The second day of the festival will start with a recognition ceremony at noon on the steps of St. Stephen’s Church. Organizers will announce the recipient of the annual Friend of the Birmingham Neighborhood Award, recognize international guests and present the Beer Keg Trophy to the winner of the Waiters Race.
Live entertainment, including musicians and ethnic dance groups, will perform both days on three stages. Vendors will be selling crafts and other items, including honey from the neighborhood’s community garden. There will also be a children’s area.
Of course there will also be food, including chicken paprikas, “Hunkey Turkey” (roasted bacon sandwich), stuffed cabbage, kolbasz (sausage sandwiches), gulyás, palacsinta (crepes), cabbage and noodles, pastries and more.
There will also be a tent displaying historic items and commemorating the Playdium and other historic Birmingham buildings. The Playdium, a 110-year-old neighborhood landmark, was razed in January after sitting vacant for years.
“Not much could be saved, but we are encouraging people to provide us with remembrances. Some folks in our community save everything,” said Lucas County Administrator Peter Ujvagi, a longtime Birmingham resident and member of the festival committee. “The Playdium was the gateway to our neighborhood and the center of culture for 100 years. I died a little that day.”
Thousands attend the festival each year, including people from across the country with ties to the neighborhood.
“It’s like a homecoming,” Ujvagi said. “The spirit of the neighborhood is much broader and bigger than the physical neighborhood. We’ve always found that’s the strength of the community.”
The inaugural festival was held to celebrate the neighborhood’s victory in stopping the construction of a four-lane overpass and widening of Consaul Street, Ujvagi said.
“That would have split the neighborhood and wiped out Packo’s and many other neighborhood businesses,” Ujvagi said. “It was a hard-fought battle for neighborhood preservation. We realized then that many people did not understand what a unique, diverse, multi-ethnic community the Birmingham neighborhood was so a festival that opened the door to the rest of Northwest Ohio was initiated.”
Bertalan, also a longtime Birmingham resident, said his favorite part of the festival is the meaning behind it.
“I love the neighborhood and I just see this event showcasing not only the history of neighborhood, but its present diversity and demonstrating hope and confidence in the future,” Bertalan said.
Ujvagi said he hopes visitors come away with a better understanding of the neighborhood’s culture — but also just have fun.
“We want them to enjoy our food and our cultural dance and music — and to have such a great time that they absolutely have to come back for the 39th Birmingham Ethnic Festival,” Ujvagi said.
Toledo Free Press is a media sponsor of the event. For more information, visit birminghamethnicfestival.wordpress.com.